DSLRs as video camcorders - pros and cons

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LumixGH2.jpg

Co-blogger Jason recently queried why I had written off using a DSLR as both my still photo camera and video camcorder in fieldwork. My pat answer up to now has been while there are some strong pros, there are some definite cons:

Pros:

  1. Beautiful video. The sensors are much larger, much better bokeh, brighter lenses.
  2. Interchangeable lenses.
  3. One less device to carry or forget to bring batteries or memory cards.

Cons:

  1. Audio: Most DSLRs have really atrocious onboard mics, low digitization rates, and no option for external audio (such as XLR jacks or even plug-in-power). They rarely have adequate mic monitoring (onboard displays or live monitoring via headphones) and usually only offer automatic gain, no manual gain option .
  2. Form factor: The SLR form factor is really designed for one form of eye-level shooting and not for live action.
  3. Autofocus: Some DSLRs cannot autofocus while video recording.
  4. Auto-Aperture: Some DSLRs cannot adjust the aperture while video recording, this makes lighting changes in a single clip difficult. Others cannot adjust the aperture in a stepless fashion, causing visible artifacts during adjustments.
  5. Zooming: OK, power zooming is generally evil, but everyone does a slow zoom once in a while, and not having a power zoom is a (major) pain.
  6. Sensor: Because almost all SLRs are single-sensor, you get color mosaicing from the Bayer filter.
  7. Shutter: Most DSLRs use an electronic rolling shutter when shooting video, unlike the mechanical shutters on dedicated video cameras. This can cause strange "jellyroll" effects on tall objects that move quickly across the screen -- or during fast pans.
Olympus-SEMA-1Mic.jpg

Rebuttal

Audio was one of the killers for me, since I do my own camera and audio. I usually have an external mic or two in interviews, feeding back into my camera. I've done dual sound using a flash recorder, and it isn't ideal. I prefer having a strong onboard sound option.

Interestingly, some DSLRs are now getting external audio options. The Olympus Pen E-PL2 (micro 4/3) has external audio through the SEMA-1 option, it provides for a 3.5mm plug-in-power jack. The higher end of the Lumix series such as the GH2 have 2.5mm audio mic jacks. And the higher end of the Canon EOS series also have 3.5mm audio jacks. Still, no real-time headphone monitoring (I think).

After the jump, I look at some specific cameras from the Canon EOS and Panasonic Lumix (micro 4/3) series. I'm interested in those two as I own older models in those series and can swap lenses.

I have to say, I'm not 100% convinced -- but like many things he has asked about before, Jason has gotten me thinking seriously about this.



Specific Cameras


Canon EOS 5D Mk II: The 5D Mk 2 can only record a maximum of 12 minutes at a time in HD mode (24 minutes in standard mode). This isn't killer, but it's a severe limitation. :-( It records to MPEG-4 and has a 3.5mm mic jack. It can autofocus while recording. See here for detailed notes: http://www.usa.canon.com/dlc/controller?act=GetArticleAct&articleID=2186 $2500 street.

Canon EOS 7D: The Canon EOS 7D can only record a maximum of 12 minutes at a time in HD mode (24 minutes in standard mode). This isn't killer, but it's a severe limitation for fieldwork. :-( It records to AVC/H.264 and has a 3.5mm mic jack. No autofocus while recording. See here for a detailed review. $1500 street.

Canon EOS 60D: 1080p @ 30/24 fps. The Canon EOS 60D can only record a maximum of 12 minutes at a time in HD mode (24 minutes in standard mode). This isn't killer, but it's a severe limitation. :-( It records to AVC/H.264 and has a 3.5mm mic jack. No autofocus while recording. See here for a detailed review. $979 street.

Panasonic Lumix G2: 720p @ 60/50 fps. A 2.5mm stereo mic jack. Cannot exchange SD card without taking it off a tripod. It records to AVCHD. Can autofocus while recording. See here for a detailed review. $550 kit street.

Panasonic Lumix GH2: 1080 @ 60p/50p/24p maxing at 23 Mbps. A 2.5mm stereo mic in jack - and can view and manually adjust mic levels while recording. It records to AVCHD on SDHC/SDXC cards. Can autofocus while recording. See here for a detailed review. $999 kit street for the 14-42mm lens, $1499 for the 14-140mm lens.

Nikon D7000: 1080p @ 24fps maxing at ?? Mbps with a 20 minute maximum clip segment limit. Stereo mic in jack with auto and 3-level manual level control. Records to H.264 on dual SDHC/SDXC cards. Can autofocus (slowly) while recording. Fixed aperture per scene. $1199 for the body only, $1499 for the 18-105mm lens kit.


Any other cameras that I should be looking at?

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Darn you Jason Romero..... Previously, I was content in separating my photography and filmmaking equipment into separate cognitive and physical categories. Still cameras took great photos, but they weren't fit for video work. Video camera took great vi... Read More

3 Comments

Very cool. Thanks for the roundup.

You might be interested in checking out the Sony NEX-VG10. 1080i @ 60fps at 24Mbps, there doesn't seem to be a limit in continuous recording time. Records on AVCHD. Can autofocus during recording (supposed to be very quiet). Has an external audio jack but not XLR, and a fancy looking on-camera mic.
Pros: Form factor and using a third party adapter you can use M mount lenses.
Cons: Doesn't shoot in RAW when doing stills.

There's a detailed review here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/camcorders/vg10.shtml

Alejandro -

Thanks for the suggestion! I have to admit that I have a deep-seated dislike of Sony because of their proprietary nature (MemoryStick anyone?). But the NEX is very interesting. I'll add the specs to the list!

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This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on January 24, 2011 6:28 PM.

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